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In most cases the modus operandi has been the same. The man has visited the auction house earlier in the year spending a small sum of money and paying by cheque to establish a line of credit. Returning later, he spends hundreds, and in many cases several thousand pounds, on ceramics and silver and pays again by cheque – but this time the account is either closed or the cheque stopped before it is presented to the bank.

At least two different cheque books have been used, one a joint account, another in the name of Robin Moss. The address ‘Mr Moss’ uses is no longer his place of residence while telephone calls to a mobile telephone number supplied are not returned. Police have reason to believe that the goods obtained by the deception are being sold into the antiques trade at local markets at knock-down prices.

Initially considered an isolated incident when Jacobs & Hunt of Petersfield were stung in the middle of June, it became apparent that a systematic scam was being perpetrated when the problem name Robin Moss repeatedly surfaced in conversations between auctioneers in or around the M25 area.

Further information passed on to the police by the Gazette shows that the problem is even greater than the investigating officers had thought. Last week the number of auctioneers who have fallen victim to the deception rose quickly to ten. Already targeted were Bracketts of Tunbridge Wells, Edgar Horn of Eastbourne, Holloways of Banbury, Parkins of Cheam, Hamptons of Godalming, Sworders of Stansted Mountfitchet, W.H. Peacock of Bedford, Cameo of Midgham, Jacobs & Hunt of Petersfield and the Horsham Auction Gallery.

Although not all parties had filed official complaints, several police forces are now involved in collating the information received so far and co-ordinating operations with a view to locating the offender quickly.

Any auctioneer who believes they have been the victim of the scam should contact their local police force and speak to Roland Arkell at the Antiques Trade Gazette on 020 7420 6686 so that we can help the police coordinate the regional investigation.